My Reading: July 2012-2013

14 07 2013

It’s that time of the year again when I display my geeky side and cast my mind over the books I’ve read in the past 12 months.

Each year I try to justify my nerdish tendencies. This year I shan’t bother to elaborate too much – feel free to read my previous attempts here, here and here – but I’ve personally found it helpful to plan roughly what I want to read each year, so that I can ensure I’m getting a balanced diet; reading the kinds of books I might otherwise be tempted to avoid, and making sure I’m not just overdosing on one genre.

To be honest, this year I’ve not followed my plans as much as in previous years. Most of my reading has been dictated by necessity rather than choice. But with the M.A.’s completion fast approaching, I live with the hope that I may regain some sense of choice over my reading plans!

That said… a couple of observations.

  • For the first year ever I’ve reached (and exceeded) my goal of one book a week – 55 completed.
  • I’ve no idea how many books I started this year, since I’ve read copious poems, articles and chapters of books for various essays, and didn’t bother noting down the books I had neither inclination nor intention to finish.
  • A literature class bumped my fiction quota up considerably!
  • I soon realised I wasn’t going to read any drama this year, but needed to read a fair chunk of literary criticism for a class I was taking, so I switched the category title.
  • The Christian/Secular divide wasn’t easy to discern this year (how do you categorise the collected works of Gerard Manley Hopkins or T.S. Eliot for example?) so is a little arbitrary in places. It’s a division I don’t much like anyway! But it’s loosely helpful to make sure my head’s not stuck in religious literature the whole time.
  • I didn’t read any books on leadership (I find them rather boring, truth be told!) though I’ve read loads more articles and listened to podcasts on the subject this year.
  • I also didn’t complete any books on marriage, though I restarted Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage. But again, I’ve read a number of articles and listened to podcasts – and spent time with my wife! And I resisted the urge to put all the books on divorce and remarriage into the ‘Marriage’ category! Skewing the stats to make the numbers look like I was a great husband, would only have provided a temporary ego boost, before you glanced down the list of books!

So here’s a rough breakdown of my how my reading faired this year, and also the list of books I read. I always intend to review books and never get round to it – but if you want my opinion on any, just ask:

Reading Breakdown

Category Aim (%) Achieved (%) Variance
Spiritual 16 10.30 -5.70
Theology 42 41.21 -0.79
Ethics/Politics/Apologetics 16 10.91 -5.09
Drama 1 8.48 7.48
Skill-Development 8 5.45 -2.55
Fiction 8 23.03 15.03
Marriage 3 0.00 -3.00
Biography 3 0.61 -2.39
Leadership 3 0.00 -3.00
Christian 75 63.64 -11.36
Secular 25 36.36 11.36

Reading List

  • Alldritt, Keith – Eliot’s Four Quartets
  • Beck (ed.), James – Two Views on Women in Ministry
  • Bell, Rob – What we Talk About When we Talk About God
  • Blenkinsopp, Joseph – Wisdom and Law in the Old Testament: The Ordering of Life in Israel and Early Judaism
  • Burke, Trevor – Adopted into God’s Family
  • Camp, Claudia – Wisdom and the Feminine in the Book of Proverbs
  • Chandler, Matt – The Explicit Gospel
  • Copan, Paul – Is God a Moral Monster?
  • Cornes, Andrew – Divorce and Remarriage
  • Crenshaw, James L. – Old Testament Wisdom: An Introduction
  • Delillo, Don – White Noise
  • Delillo,  Don – The Angel Esmeralda
  • Dell, Katharine  – Get Wisdom, Get Insight
  • Donovan, Jeremey – How to Deliver a TED Talk
  • Dostoevsky, Fyodor – Crime and Punishment
  • Duvall, J.Scott and Hays, J. Daniel – Grasping God’s Word
  • Eliot, T.S. – The Four Quartets
  • Erswine, Zach – Preaching to a Post-Everything World
  • Fee, Gordon and Stuart, Douglas – How to Read the Bible for all its Worth
  • Foster Wallace, David – Brief Interviews with Hideous Men
  • Gish, Nancy – Time in the Poetry of T.S. Eliot
  • Greene, Graham – The Heart of the Matter
  • Hybels, Bill – Just Walk Across the Room
  • Instone-Brewer, David – Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context
  • John of the Cross, St – Ascent of Mount Carmel
  • John of the Cross, St – The Dark Night of the Soul
  • Johnson, Adam  – The Orphan Master’s Son
  • Joyce, James – A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
  • Keener, Craig – …And Marries Another
  • Kramer, Kenneth – Redeeming Time: T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets
  • Kreeft, Peter – Christianity for Modern Pagans
  • Manley Hopkins, Gerard – Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins
  • Medearis, Carl – Speaking of Jesus: The art of not-evangelism
  • Miller, Donald – Father Fiction: Chapters for a Fatherless Generation
  • Murray, John – Divorce
  • Partridge, Alan  – I, Partridge: We need to talk about Alan
  • Peers, E. Allison – St John of the Cross
  • Phillips, Caroline – The Religious Quest in the Poetry of T.S. Eliot
  • Rajan (ed), Balachandra – T.S. Eliot: A Study of his Writings by Several Hands
  • Rossiter, Joanna – The Sea Change
  • Sinnot, Alice – The Personification of Wisdom
  • Smith, Zadie – White Teeth
  • Sproul,  R.C. – Can I Have Joy in my Life?
  • Spufford, Francis – Unapologetic: Why, despite everything, Christianity can make surprising emotional sense
  • Stibbe, Mark – I Am Your Father
  • Stott, John – The Cross of Christ
  • Thomas, Gary – Sacred Pathways
  • von Rad, Gerhard – Wisdom in Israel
  • Vonnegut, Kurt – God Bless You, Dr Kevorkian
  • Warren, Rick – God’s Power to Change your Life
  • Wenham/Heth/Keener – Remarriage After Divorce in Today’s Church: Three Views
  • Westermann, Claus – Roots of Wisdom
  • Witherington, Ben – Jesus the Sage
  • Zacharias, Ravi – Jesus Among Other Gods 

Note: there’s one book missing from my list because it’s not actually been published yet. But rest assured, it will be released soon and then I won’t stop recommending it!!

Reading Analysis 2011-2012

16 07 2012

To read is to fly: it is to soar to a point of vantage which gives a view over wide terrains of history, human variety, ideas, shared experience and the fruits of many inquiries.’ – A.C. Grayling

What you put into you matters. Or so nutritionists tell us. Balance is essential. Too much of one food group and you end up fat, lethargic, unwell… or dead.

If that’s true of our physical wellbeing, might it not be true for our intellectual wellbeing?

Each year I try to plan my reading in order to ensure that I have a balanced diet: reading widely, reading in areas that will strengthen the areas I need to be strong in immediately, and reading things that stretch me and strengthen me for the next 5-10 years.

It’s geeky I know, but I’ve found it helpful over the past few years to plan what types of books I need to read over a year, keep a list of all the books I have read, and then analyse how balanced my reading has been. Each July I’ve set goals for how I want to divide up my reading in the next 12 months. And the time has come to analyse my reading from 2011-2012.

This year I thought my reading would take a hit. Having started an MA, I’ve been reading more articles or chapters of books rather than whole books. I haven’t listed those here, since I’ve dipped into well over a hundred books that I’ve never had the inclination or intention to finish. These are just the books I’ve read in full.

As it happens though, the number of books I’ve completed has increased rather than decreased, which I’m pretty happy with, especially since a number of the books are pretty enormous (Beale’s commentary on Revelation for example, was something of a beast!)

In July 2011 to July 2012 I completed 50 books; that is 3 more than last year. Annoyingly I didn’t quite make it to 1 book a week. I was tempted to read a couple of Mr Men this morning to tip me over, but resisted the urge…

82% of books were Christian, 18% secular. This is a bit out from what I had hoped. I’d originally aimed for a 70/30 split, but reading for an MA in Theology skewed that quite considerably.

The following table shows my goals for the year, how my reading broke down into each category, and the variance between my goals and achievements.

My theological reading has been more than I’d aimed for this year, on account of the fact that I wasn’t planning to study for an MA when I originally set my goals. A change of focus means that I’ve read no plays this year, and have spent less time reading books on Leadership or Skill Development. However, I’ve made a concerted effort to develop my writing this year, and have consequently found it useful to read ‘well written books’ rather than ‘books on writing well’; hence more novels.

Again, I couldn’t quite bring myself to post it here, for fear of irrevocably labelling myself a geek… but if you would prefer to see it represented as a pie chart, your wish is my command.

All this has helped me to set goals for 2012-2013. I hope to apportion my reading roughly as follows:

And in case you’re curious, here’s a list of all the books I completed this year:

Barr, James – The Garden of Eden and the Hope of Immortality
Barnes, Julian – The Sense of an Ending
Barton, John (ed.) – The Cambridge Companion to Biblical Interpretation
Bauckham, Richard – The Bible in Politics
Beale, G.K. – The Book of Revelation (NIGTC)
Carson, D.A. – The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God
Cook, Jeff – Everything New
Cooper, John – Body, Soul and Life Everlasting
Copan, Paul – Is God a Moral Monster?
Coupland, Douglas – Miss Wyoming
Coupland, Douglas – Life Without God
DeWiit, Patrick – The Sisters Brothers
Fergusson and Fergusson, Dave and Jon – Exponential
Fergusson and Fergusson, Dave and Jon – The Big idea
Giles, Kevin – Jesus and the Father
Guinness, Os – The Call
Guinness, Michele – The Genius of Guinness
Gunton, Colin – The Promise of Trinitarian Theology
Hosier, Matthew – Sex Talks
Hosier, John – The Lamb, the Beast and the Devil
Keller, Timothy – Counterfeit Gods
Koukl, Gregory – Tactics
Lawrence, D.H. – Apocalypse
Laws, Sophie – In the Light of the Lamb
Lloyd-Jones, Martin – From Fear to Faith
Mamet, David – Writing in Restaurants
Mansfield, Stephen – Searching for God and Guinness
McEwan, Ian – The Innocent
McLaren, Brian – The Secret Message of Jesus
Mitchell, David – Cloud Atlas
Moore, Phil – Straight to the Heart of Revelation
Moraine, Jack – Healing Ministry: A Training Manual for Believers
Ponsonby, Simon – More
Rahner, Karl – On the Theology of Death
Rahner, Karl – The Trinity
Reeves, Michael – The Good God
Rollins, Peter – How (Not) to Speak About God
Rollins, Peter – Insurrection
Schüssler Fiorenza, Elisabeth – In Memory of Her
Schüssler Fiorenza, Elisabeth – Discipleship of Equals
Schüssler Fiorenza, Elisabeth – The Book of Revelation: Justice and Judgment
Smith, James K.A. – Desiring the Kingdom
Smith, James K.A. – Thinking in Tongues
Tyson, Jon – Rumours of God
Wilson, N.D. – Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl
Wilson, Andrew – If God Then What?
Wimber, John – Power Evangelism
Wodehouse, P.G. – Love Among the Chickens
Wright, Tom – Revelation for Everyone
Zacharias, Ravi – Recapture the Wonder

Reading Analysis: 2010-2011

19 07 2011

A balanced diet is good for your health, because what you put into you matters. Too much of one food group and you will end up fat, lethargic, or with vitamin deficiencies. I would propose that the same is true of our reading…

What you put into you matters; it shapes what you become. And so for the past couple of years I’ve tried to get a balanced diet of reading, ensuring that I am:

  1. Reading widely
  2. Not simply reading in the categories I enjoy, but broadening my horizons to read things I wouldn’t naturally choose
  3. Reading books that will help me develop the skills I will require for the next 5-10 years.

It’s geeky, I know, but I’ve found it incredibly useful not only to chart what I’m reading, but then to set goals for the next year. I haven’t followed my goals slavishly… reading is an art (and a joy!) not a science, but it has helped me to identify areas I rarely read in, and to readdress the balance accordingly. With a limited amount of time to read, it’s too important for me to leave to chance…

If you wish, you can check out last year’s stats and book list, but here’s what I’ve found for July 2010-2011:

  • In 2010-2011 I started 55 books, of which I completed 47.
  • I completed one more book this year, and started fewer, which is great! I no longer have quite an enormous pile of half-read books languishing on my bedside table. Of course, there are plenty of other books I’ve dipped into for the odd chapter or fact… I haven’t bothered listing those here, only the books I started with a genuine intent to finish!
  • 77% of books were Christian, 23% secular
  • The following table shows my goals for the year, how my reading broke down into each category, and the variance between my goals and achievements*

  • From this I can see that I’ve read more ‘spiritual’ books than I had imagined or intended, but that’s no bad thing. Part of that has been necessity (researching for talks on prayer for example) and some of it was a healthy redressing of the balance from last year.
  • I’ve read far fewer books on ethics, apologetics and politics this year than I had intended. That is a weakness, and I would like to change that in this next year. I’ve already lined up a couple of apologetics books that I could do with reading to strengthen my thinking in that area.
  • I’ve spent little time reading books about marriage, though I’ve listened to plenty of talks on it this year, so hopefully I’ve still invested in it my marriage in other ways!!
  • My reading of drama has decreased this year. I’m happy with that. As I’ve thought long and hard about what I am likely to do with my life, I see less of a role for drama and the theatre, other than being a hobby. So I’ve felt less inclined to give time to it in my reading.
  • My ‘skill development’ figure is low and my ‘fiction’ figure high. This is due to the fact that I really want to develop in writing, and yet as I have read books on writing, I’ve realised that I can learn immeasurably more from just reading well-written books! Books on writing can be pretty turgid, self-indulgent, opinionated, and not overly helpful… So I’ve read a number of novels by skilled writers instead, and have enjoyed them immensely. I’m not usually one for reading fiction, but I’ve gone on recommendations from my wife, and she’s hit the nail on the head every time!
  • Again, I couldn’t quite bring myself to post it here, for fear of irrevocably labelling myself a geek… but if you would prefer to see it represented as a pie chart, your wish is my command.
  • All this has helped me to set goals for 2011-2012. I hope to apportion my reading roughly as follows:

In case you’re curious, here’s the list of books I’ve completed this year:

As I’ve said previously, I’ve found this to be a helpful exercise, which has caused me to take my reading more seriously, and to be more strategic and forward looking about what I read. Socrates wrote:

“Employ your time in improving yourself by other men’s writings so that you shall come easily by what others have laboured hard for.”

Think about where you want to be in a year. Think about the character traits you want ironed out, the skills you want to improve, then read the relevant books. Make your reading count. Think about the great men and women of history you want to learn from and emulate – and then read their biographies. Think about some of your edges that are blunt, and read books that will sharpen them. Think about your jagged edges and read books that will smooth them. And then join me in public self-humiliation – post a pie chart!


* Given that there is often a significant amount of cross over between categories, I apportioned each book 3 points, which I could spread across the categories as I saw fit.

The Royal Wedding: A nude, 3D dance-fest?

10 03 2011

One of the top trends on Twitter today notes the fact that the date of the Royal Wedding is the 66th anniversary of Hilter and Eva Braun’s wedding. Incidentally, people point out, they went on to kill themselves the next day… Spooky huh?

I find it peculiar the way people latch onto stats like this. They spot omens and tell-tale signs in the most trivial of coincidences. Football commentators are the worst. How many times have you heard some ridiculous stat like…

‘The last six times x team have played in red against a team in blue, having scored in the first 7 minutes, with their goalkeeper using black gloves, and only one English player in their squad, they have always gone on to lose the game and the league!’

…as if that means anything?!

Can’t we let a coincidence be a coincidence without attaching meanings, symbolism, suppositions, superstitions (and typology?!) to it? It’s not spooky, it’s not mysterious. They just have a limited number of dates to choose from!

Well, just to add fuel to the fire, here are a few more thoughts about the royal wedding. In case you weren’t aware, April 29th is:

  • The 65th anniversary of Father Divine, a religious leader who claimed to be god, marrying Edna Rose Ritchings
  • The 58th anniversary of the first 3D-TV broadcast in the USA
  • The 43rd anniversary of the Broadway opening of the musical ‘Hair’ in which the cast stripped entirely naked
  • The 29th anniversary of International Dance Day
  • The 25th anniversary of a fire in the Los Angeles Public Library, which destroyed over 400,000 books

By my reckoning, we can expect that the Royal Wedding will be quite an occasion: The entire thing will be conducted in dance, fully in the nude, broadcast on TV in 3D, culminating in a colossal fire, and William declaring himself to be divine!

Just imagine what other amazing insights we could discover if we applied the principles of the Bible Code to the wedding invites!!

Can the Cushite change his skin?

20 10 2010

I remember being in a Christian bookshop that was shutting down. Books I’d been after for ages were being sold off at ridiculous prices. (I literally blinked and missed Ben Witherington’s commentary on Acts for 99p – some conniving little weasel snuck in and nicked it off the shelf from before my very eyes. I nearly beat him to a pulp with a £2 copy of Lloyd-Jones on Romans volume 1 – a book I think is far more suited to inflicting pain with than reading) And in the midst of the sale I ended up picking up a random, dull grey covered book that I had no interest in, but was in a series I’d heard of… and would set me back about 30p.

That book was J. Daniel Hays’ From Every People and Nation. I got it home, read the back, discovered it was bound to be even less exciting than I had thought. A survey of the ethnic make up of the Bible – made up almost entirely of non-extant people groups, 80% of which I couldn’t even begin to pronounce.

I shelved it. Wouldn’t you?

J. Daniel Hays - From Every People and Nation

Some years later, I had read a couple of other books in the series, and recalled that I had this volume sitting on my shelf. I thought I would give it a go. So I packed it as holiday reading (!!) along with another couple of books. My philosophy with holiday reading is that if I only take boring looking books that I know I should read, but have little desire to, in the hope that I will have no choice but to get through them… and then I can steal one of my wife’s novels as a treat!

Hays’ book was a surprise. Essentially it went through the Bible, beginning to end, listing nation after nation, telling us where they came from and what they looked like. Not exactly what you would call a riveting premise! But as I read it, I have to say, I was amazed at the picture it painted. I had never quite realized how prominent black Africans were in the Biblical narrative! It’s not that I’d though they weren’t there – and I certainly didn’t hold the old ‘all the holy people of Scripture were beautiful European Aryans’ view, characteristic of so much anachronistic (quasi racist?!) western artwork – but I guess I’d never stopped to think that the Cushites were a black African people. And I’d certainly never noticed how frequently they occur in the Biblical narrative. Was Zephaniah a Cushite? (Zeph 1:1) How about Phineas? Says Hays:

Ph’ functions like the definite article. ‘nehsiu’ means inhabitant of the region along the Nile. Thus Phinehas means ‘the negro’ or ‘the Cushite.’ He is ‘the only leader other than Joshua that takes the initiative in any action within the book of Joshua.’ (p81).

Ok – so his writing could perhaps be a little punchier. But an interesting insight I’d not picked up before.

The section on Moses’ marriage to a Cushite (possibly the daughter of the Cushite King, according to Josephus; Ant 10:1-2) was brilliant, and unlocked the narrative in a way I’d never previously appreciated:

Yahweh’s punishment on Miriam is swift and severe. He strikes her with a skin disease and she becomes (white) as snow […] an intentional, appropriate response to Miriam’s prejudice against the black wife […] More important, and much clearer, is the theological dimension of Miriam’s punishment. She was sent outside the camp, a temporary expulsion from the family and the people of God. While the Cushite woman becomes part of Moses’ family and the people of Israel through marriage, Miriam, through her opposition to Moses, is separated both from the family and the people of Israel.’ (p76)

Slightly less seriously, (but almost equally interesting!) I was amused to learn that ‘the leopard changing his spots’ was a Biblical phrase – I’d always attributed it to Aesop, or some other peddler of fables. But no:

Can the Cushite change his skin or the leopard his spots?‘ (Jeremiah 13:23)

Perhaps I’d always been naïve… but I was astonished as I read about the way various people had used and abused texts to endorse and condone racism over the years, in particular Genesis 9:18-27. It amazed me that people could so twist the word of God to create division between people based on their skin colour.

The final chapter was an appeal to the church to root out and deal with racism. It puzzled me. Hays laid out seven concluding thoughts, as follows:

  1. The biblical world was multi-ethnic, and black people were involved in God’s unfolding plan of redemption from the beginning
  2. All people are created in the image of God, and therefore all races and ethnic groups have the same status and unique value that results from the image of God
  3. Genesis 10 and the Abrahamic promise combine to form a theme that runs throughout Scripture, constantly pointing to the global and multi-ethnic elements inherent in the overarching plan of God
  4. Racial intermarriage is sanctioned by Scripture
  5. The gospel demands that we carry compassion and the message of Christ across ethnic lines
  6. The New Testament demands active unity in the Church, a unity that explicitly joins differing ethnic groups together because of their common identity in Christ
  7. The picture of God’s people at the climax of history portrays a multi-ethnic congregation from every tribe, language, people, and nation, all gathered together in worship around God’s throne

Sure’ I thought. ‘But don’t all Christians agree with those points?‘ I had friends who were dating or married to people with a different skin colour. I’d never even questioned it: ‘Surely people aren’t that racist these days?‘ I thought. ‘Not in England? Not in English churches?’

Bizarrely enough, the two other books I’d chosen to take away with me were Dreams from my Father by Barack Obama, and William Hague’s biography of Wilberforce. Hague seems to have a peculiar habit of only writing biographies of people who share his first name. William Wilberforce. William Pitt. I half imagine we might see an account of the life and times of William Shatner in the coming years. Or seeing as Liam is a Gaelic shortening of William, perhaps I might even be the next lucky subject! Had ‘Just William‘ not already been taken, it might have made a suitable title for the series. But I digress…

Together these three books really challenged me on the issue of race. Reading again the story of the abhorrent racism that Wilberforce and friends fought to bring down, and the rather more modern account of Obama facing mockery and abuse over his mixed race parentage, really helped me to realise that it is by no means an issue relegated to the long grass of distant history. The combination of this trio of books made me question whether I had been quite naïve in my assumption that racism isn’t that prevalent in the church these days. Perhaps it doesn’t take the same recognisable form today, but it’s still there, and still an evil to be rooted out and destroyed mercilessly.

One of my favourite books to teach on is Ephesians. I have the joy of being able to spend a whole day teaching through it to hungry volunteers on a Newfrontiers training course, and the beauty of the truth that God has made for himself one new man, reconciling the irreconcilable gets me excited and emotional every time. Even preaching this summer on Genesis 10 and God’s plan to regather the nations to Himself through the Church excited and stirred me afresh.

Let’s not make the mistake of Miriam. And let us not think arrogantly that we have reached the pinnacle of history, from which we can survey the past and think ‘aren’t I glad we’re no longer like that unenlightened lot.‘ Racism is always a danger, especially in its subtle, passive forms – more about what we don’t do for those who are different to us than what we do. But the Biblical narrative does not allow for it. Neither does the Gospel. And neither should we.

Reading Analysis (ii)

21 07 2010

Since I was asked… here’s the list of the books I’ve completed this year. Enjoy:

Beale G.K. The Temple and the Church’s Mission
Bell Rob Drops like Stars
Bell Rob Velvet Elvis
Blomberg Craig Neither Poverty nor Riches
Blumenthal Heston The Fat Duck Cookbook
Campbell Alexi Kaye Apologia
Camus Albert The Outsider
Carson D.A. Exegetical Fallacies
Carson D.A. How Long, O Lord?
Collins Francis The Language of God
Crouch Andy Culture Making
Eaton Michael Genesis 1-11
Esslin Martin The Theatre of the Absurd
Flew Anthony There is a God
Garnett Dameon Break Away
Green Michael I believe in Satan’s Downfall
Greene Graham Brighton Rock
Hague William William Wilberforce
Hays Richard The Moral Vision of the New Testament
Hays J. Daniel From Every People and nation
Ionesco Eugene The Chairs
King Stephen On Writing
Lewis C.S. The Problem of pain
Lindsay D. Michael Faith in the Halls of Power
Mamet David Glengarry Glen Ross
Marin Andrew Love is an Orientation
McGrath Alistair Doubts in Perspective
McGrath Alistair The Dawkins Delusion
Miller Donald Searching for God Knows What
Miller Donald A Million Miles in a Thousand Years
Nevin Norman C Should Christians Embrace Evolution
O’Brien Peter Ephesians
Obama Barack Dreams From My Father
Pawson David Defending Christian Zionism
Piper John The Supremacy of Christ in the Postmodern World
Pollock John The Billy Graham Story
Ravenhill Mark Over There
Rookmaaker H.R. Modern Art and the Death of a Culture
Sizer Stephen Zion’s Christian Soldiers
Stott John God’s New Society
Tharp Twyla The Creative Habit
Virgo Terry Does the Future Have a Church?
Wade Laura Posh
Wink Walter Naming the Powers
Wittgenstein Ludwig Philosophical Investigations
Yoder John Howard The Politics of Jesus

Unleashing the Geek: Reading Analysis

20 07 2010

‘When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.’

What is your reading worth? How do you measure it?

By nature I’m not much into statistics. They wow me for a moment and then I forget them. The only ones that lodge in my head are the pointless ones. You know, only 30% of people can flare their nostrils, 307 tubes of smarties are eaten in the UK every minute… Those kind of useful statistics!

But when something is important, it’s worth going outside your comfort zone for. So a year ago, I decided I needed to take my reading more seriously. I was about to move to London and imagined I would end up with less time to read (in reality I have had far more!) so I felt I had to make my reading count.

First step: I began the year by reading a book on reading! How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler. To be honest it was quite dull – I wish I’d read the chapter that says ‘some books are dull, so not worth reading in full’ first… but if Mr Adler had put that at the beginning, I’m not convinced anyone would get past chapter 1. Self-preservation methinks! But it helped me to take my reading more seriously and learn how to do it better. Over the past year I’ve tried some new strategies for improving my reading-productivity. Some have worked, some haven’t. But all in all, I’m happy that this year I have read wider, learnt more, and hopefully retained more than in previous years.

Second step: For the first time I decided to keep a list of every book I read throughout the year so that I could assess how productive my reading was, where my blind spots were, and whether I was having a ‘balanced diet’ of reading.

The experience has been interesting, and now at the end of the year, I’ve been able to see not only what I’ve read, but which categories I’ve focussed on most, and which I’ve left by the wayside. So:

Third step: I plan to use this data now to readdress the focus of my reading in 2010-2011, to achieve a healthy, balanced diet. So on the off chance that somebody other than me would be even vaguely interested, this is what I found:

  • In 2009-2010 I started 66 books, of which I completed 46
  • 74% were Christian books whilst 26% were secular
  • Breaking it down into categories my reading was comprised of the following:*
    • Spiritual – 12% (By which I mean books that stretch my soul rather than just the mind. Devotional books and books on the spiritual disciplines)
    • Theology – 35% (Including commentaries and technical books)
    • Ethics/Politics/Social/Apologetics – 27%
    • Drama – 12% (Plays and books on theatre)
    • Skill-Development – 7% (Particularly on creativity, writing, reading)
    • Fiction – 2%
    • Marriage – 0% (!!)
    • Biography – 4%
    • Leadership – 1%
  • From this I can see that I have spent a good deal of my time reading books that stretch the mind, and not enough on ones that stretch the soul. I hope to readdress this in the coming year.
  • I’ve not invested any of my reading time in developing my marriage this year (though hopefully I have invested in other ways!) This needs readdressing.
  • Combined, I’ve given 20% of my reading over to development of skills and particularly creative skills (combining the skills, drama and leadership categories). I’m fairly happy with this, but would like to apportion it a bit differently going forward, reading more on leadership for example.
  • I couldn’t quite bring myself to post it here, for fear of irrevocably labelling myself a geek… but if you would prefer to see it represented as a pie chart, look no further.
  • All this has helped me to set goals for 2010-2011. I hope to apportion my reading roughly as follows:
    • Spiritual – 13%
    • Theology – 30%
    • Ethics/Politics/Social/Apologetics – 20%
    • Drama – 10%
    • Skill-Development – 10%
    • Fiction – 2%
    • Marriage – 5%
    • Biography – 5%
    • Leadership – 5%

I’ve found it to be a helpful exercise. It has caused me to take my reading more seriously, and to be more strategic and forward looking about what I read.** I’ve seen the fruits of it, particularly in terms of increased creative output. Socrates wrote: “Employ your time in improving yourself by other men’s writings so that you shall come easily by what others have laboured hard for.” If it is permissible to add and subtract words from Socrates, I would say that reading other men’s writings is a key to becoming what you are called to be. Think about where you want to be in a year. Think about the character traits you want ironed out, the skills you want to improve, then read the relevant books. Make your reading count. Think about the great men and women of history you want to learn from and emulate – and then read their biographies. Think about some of your edges that are blunt, and read books that will sharpen them. Think about your jagged edges and read books that will smooth them.

And then join me in public self-humiliation – post a pie chart!


* Given that there is often a significant amount of cross over between categories, I apportioned each book 3 points, which I could spread across the categories as I saw fit.

** Implicit in all of this, of course, is a recommendation to read the Bible… i haven’t even counted that in my analysis, but it is the book by which I measure all other books.